Romantic relationships with intimate partners (significant others) are comprised of three components:
I. Mate Selection (Choice)
II. Relationship Model or Hypothesis
III. Termination Triggers
Mate selection is critical, of course, but even more important is to ensure compatibility between the mate selected and the model of relationship one has in mind. There are as many types of relationships as there are couples and one would do well to define precisely how one would like to live her life with her spouse. An open marriage calls for one kind of partner and a traditional one calls for another. Mismatches between the personality, character, and temperament of the members of the couple and the relationship model they have adopted are often the main fount of trouble, gnawing at the foundations and leading to the disintegration of the pair.
Yet, even when one’s mate, partner, or spouse has been selected with care to perfectly fit the relationship one has in mind – some relationships crumble. This is because the members of the couple have disparate “termination triggers” and abandonment anxiety thresholds. Insecurities, fears, and codependence often rise to the surface and lead to self-defeating behaviours, such as preemptive abandonment; (“I will walk away before he does.”)
Romantic, intimate relationships are comprised of various dimensions, functions, and axes. Deconstruct your past relationships in order to avoid mistakes in future ones.
How do you perceive the role of your relationships in fostering your personal growth and in attaining your life’s goals? This is known as your Personal Narrative.
Which of these internal and external functions matter to you most in your romantic relationships (use your answers construct a prioritized list)?
— Experiencing Love: romantic, “mature” (as distinct from mere and fleeting infatuation)
— Being desired, chosen, focus of attention/adulation
— Being exclusive/monogamous
— Excitement, thrill — to counter boredom
— Stability, safety, predictability, reliability — to counter anxiety
— Mirroring (emphasizing and sharing similarities)
— Personal growth enhancement
— Conformity (enhancing your social acceptability)
— Conferring social status
— Sexual Availability
— Non-sexual intimacy
— Procreation (having children)
— Companionship (unrestricted and immediate physical and mental availability of another person with whom one shares the same range of opinions, interests, and pursuits.)
— Friendship (deep, all-pervasive bonding to another person, involving full, unmitigated trust, a great measure of non-sexual or also sexual intimacy and the pursuit of the mutual well-being and happiness of both parties.)
Then proceed to identify your Commitment Triggers:
What is it that determines whether a prospective partner would end up being a one-night stand or your life-long spouse?
What are your Relationship Predictors?
Commit to paper (or screen) everything that your inner voice tells you when it says: “this maybe the one” and when it guesstimates how long the relationship is likely to last.
List your expectations of yourself and of your partner and generate a coherent Expectations (“what to look for”) Profile.
Determine how you test for reciprocity. Is it a quid pro quo type of ledger or accounting approach? Is it more diffuse, synoptic test?
How do you build trust in the context of your relationships? Do you share information with your partner? Are you more into “information discovery” (not to put too fine a point on it: spying)? Do you constantly gauge and test his reliability and responsibility? To what extent are you self-aware of your own good and bad qualities, fortes and limitations or shortcomings?
What is the frequency of sex throughout the life of your typical past relationship? Are you sexually creative, imaginative, and inventive? Do you initiate or merely respond to advances and cues? Do you frequently end up finding yourself in sexless relationships? Are you mostly sexually available – or withdrawn? To what extent do gender roles express themselves in your sex life with your intimate partner? What about social, religious, and cultural strictures and biases?
The partners’ expectations regarding the longevity of the relationship determines the relationship style. Do you expect your relationships to last, or are you doubtful, pessimistic, cynical, and fatalistic from the get-go?
Proximity – Spatial
Are you into cohabitation or otherwise sharing the same premises or area? Or, would you rather live in separate apartments and schedule your encounters? What role does territoriality play in the thriving and survival of your relationships?
Proximity – Temporal
Do you need to do everything together with your partner (clinging) or can you give him/her space? (Synchronous interactivity or time-delayed interaction)
Do you immediately progress from casual acquaintance to full-fledged commitment – or do you give it time and proceed incrementally, carefully, and gradually?
Who decides on the allocation of roles in the couple and how are they allocated? Do you typically talk over your roles (functions and responsibilities) and reach an agreement (explicit role allocation) or do you leave it to “life” and play it by ear (role allocation by emergence)?
Once the roles in your relationships are defined are they “cast in stone” (rigid) – or subject to change as circumstances change and both of you grow and develop?
The Two Models of Relationship
TYPE OF RELATIONSHIP
Negotiated (matchmaker) love Emergent (romantic)
TYPE OF PARTNER
Partner, companion, friend (active intellect, charm, accomplishments, goal-orientation, self-suffiency)
Sexual, adventurer, narcissist
DYNAMICS OF RELATIONSHIP
Routines, full disclosure, common activities and hobbies, common growth goals
Excitement, thrill, surprise
TYPE OF BOND
Demonstrated exclusivity and perceived threat protocols
TERRITORIAL DIMENSIONS OF RELATIONSHIP
Pre-defined autonomy enclaves
Dependence, clinging (“smothering”)
Spatial progression to limited cohabitation with private space reserves in-house or outside
Immediate, full-fledged relationship
By Sam Vaknin, PhD, the author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited” — a far-reaching book about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and abusive behavior — and other books about personality disorders.